Samson the Smart Swine
HOW LIVESTOCK ARE UNDERESTIMATED IN TERMS OF THEIR ABILITIES
Samson the pig’s life was nearing its end, but he didn’t want to end up as ham. He was spending his latter years in a horsebox which had originally been intended for ponies. Every morning, he slid open the door and went out to have his morning wash. Pigs are very clean animals. Even if the typical image of a pig suggests something very different, these animals keep strict separation between the places they eat, sleep and go to the toilet in.
After his daily morning stroll, Samson picked up his “friend” Maria from the neighboring pen – the chicken coop. Samson let Maria the chicken sit on his back all day long. None of the other chickens were allowed to do this – just Maria. Nobody knows how the two of them got to know each other – just that it was at a farm sanctuary near Heide in the north of Germany where they had both been given a safe new home, far away from slaughterhouses and breeding boxes. In the evenings, Samson would take his friend home again before going to bed. And so the days passed, until the chicken died and Samson was in mourning. He never let another chicken sit on his back, because it wouldn’t have been the same without Maria. This is a true story from Schleswig-Holstein in the north of Germany.
Livestock animals are often underestimated in terms of their intelligence, social competences, empathy and emotions. Pigs like Samson are a good example of this. They are some of the most intelligent animals on the planet – right behind dolphins, great apes and elephants.
They recognize themselves in the mirror, which suggests that they have a sense of self – something which has only been proven to be the case in very few mammals, as well as in parrots. They also use mirrors to find things which are not in their direct line of sight. In a study from 2009, British researchers demonstrated how pigs recognize mirrors and use them accordingly. The researchers hid the feed in such a way that the pigs could only see it with the help of a mirror. Rather than going to the mirror, the animals understood the trick and found the feed with the help of the mirror image.
they can do much more
But that’s by no means all that pigs are capable of. A study in the USA found that pigs can remember symbols and can even use a joystick – which certainly makes sense given that they love to play so much! In the study by US researchers Candace C. Croney from Purdue University and Sarah T. Boysen from the Comparative Cognition Project, two domestic pigs, Hamlet and Omelette, and two miniature pigs, Ebony and Ivory, were shown to have astounding abilities.
After the pigs had learned to move a joystick on command within two weeks, all four also learned to direct their attention to a screen. Finally, the skills they learned were combined, meaning that they were able to move a cursor on a screen. What makes this all the more astounding is the fact that pigs tend to be naturally long-sighted, and of course they don’t have thumbs. So, pigs’ snouts are capable of much more than just sniffing out food! More by coincidence than anything else, the researchers found out something else, too: the pigs were not motivated solely by the food they got as a reward – when the food dispenser was out of order, the researchers’ voices giving praise was enough to make the pigs respond with joyful sounds. READ HERE FRONTIERSIN STUDY
the language of pigs
Intelligence is often associated with the use of language. The language used by pigs is very multifaceted and is punctuated with a range of noises which express emotions. This means it’s possible to recognize when pigs are experiencing a variety of moods, and vice versa, pigs are very good at interpreting human moods on the basis of language. Unfortunately, we humans have lost our awareness of the animals we once lived alongside. For too many people, there is nothing in their mind which they connect to the “piece of meat” they buy from the supermarket. It’s time to start thinking differently, and above all to start acting differently – before talking about “stupid pigs”, humans should question how they themselves act.
By the way, pigs also like listening to music – different genres depending on their character! They’re not really that different from us, are they?